I love etymology, or the study of the origin of words. How do words come to mean what we say they mean? It’s a fascinating subject for a nerd like me. And words sometimes, or maybe often, don’t mean what they sound like. One word that is used commonly in North America, and especially in my experience, in the South, is “doohickey”. For those unfamiliar, when someone says “hand me the doohickey”, they are saying “give me the item to which I am gesturing that you should see I obviously need.” Context, as they say, is key. You need to be in the moment to know what they mean, and you need to be paying attention to understand how you should behave, e.g. giving them the tool, instrument, or whatever they are asking for.
When reading Scripture, we see that certain ways of being, believing, and living are better than others. These better ways should be the standard for those who are redeemed by God. However, we need to always remember that the words we read in scripture weren’t written down by some guy last week in USA-English, but were written down 2000 years ago by men (and women?) who were writing in a different time to a different context and translated to our language today. We CAN understand a lot about scripture; it is clear there is only one God, not 100, and that Jesus is his Son and our Savior. However, studying helps us understand ideas, concepts, and words more clearly. The more clearly we understand Scripture, the better we can live it out and the better our lives will be by living it out.
Today, we are looking at the word “joy”. If we can understand how joy is used in the New Testament, that should shed some light on how joy is used in Philippians.
First, joy (in Greek : charas) is the reaction of those who hear the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus. When Jesus is born, the angels proclaimed it was good news of great joy (Luke 2:10). When the magi find the home of Jesus, they are overwhelmed with joy. (Matt. 2:10) As Jesus is raised, the disciples respond in joy. (Matt. 28:8)
Next, joy is the response of the early church in Acts. The disciples not only receive the Holy Spirit but also joy! (13:52) The people had joy due to miracles being performed. (8:8) Joy came upon all the believers when Gentiles came to the truth of faith in Christ. (15:3)
Finally, Paul has his own way of speaking about joy. Paul looks to those he leads as those who bring him joy. Paul calls the Thessalonians his “glory and joy” because of their steadfastness in faith and proof that God is working through him. (1 Thess. 2:19-20) Paul sees his sufferings and persecutions as a cause for joy because of the work it may do for the message of Christ (Col. 1:24). Finally, over and over, Paul tell his readers that joy is the reality of Kingdom living, a gift of God, a gift God gives through connection to His Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17, Gal 5:22-23, 1 Thess. 1:6)
That’s a lot of verses to meditate on through today or tonight, but a bunch of verses does not a definition make. So we need to say what joy seems to be in the New Testament.
Here is an example definition. I would encourage you, as you study the verses above, and others, to write your own definition, but this may be a helpful definition for you as we walk in joy this week.
Joy is the state of happiness and contentment as we hear the gospel message and respond in faith. In that response, we are given God’s Holy Spirit, that will allow us to ground our joy in the truth that God is our loving Father and we are his saved children. Then we are able to see the difficult and painful circumstances of life as opportunities for God’s glory rather than as cause for us to lose our happiness. Joy is, therefore, not an emotion like happiness and sadness, but a way of living in response to the work of God and Jesus where we are continually hopeful and peaceful in every situation.
May you, my brothers and sisters, find THAT joy today. May it fill your hearts and minds, and may it pour from the spirit of God into your spirit.